by Charles Stross
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Accelerando exhibits many of the strengths and weaknesses of novels which were originally published as separate short stories (in this case over a period from 2001-2004). On the one hand, when read together, the individual pieces can form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Characters who appear minor in some parts of the novel turn out to be much more important by the end of the book, a fact which isn't as obvious when reading the works individually. Similarly, the situation grows more organically when taken together.
Fix-ups have their problems as well. While Stross manages to avoid the worst of these, notably repetition as he reintroduces his world, he can't avoid a feeling that the novel is episodic. Even as the world and plot do build together, the specific chapters retain a sense of individuality.
Stross follows the fortunes of the Macx family from the near future, when Manfred Macx rejects the traditional money-based economy in favor of a new, and for him more successful, reputation-based economy. His life is entwined with his former lover, Pamela, who works for the IRS and cannot understand, even after seeing it firsthand, how he can live his exorbitant lifestyle without using money.
The long-term results of their brief relationship is a daughter, Amber, and a sort of robotic cat, Aineko, who serves as Manfred's autonomous PDA and amanuensis as it is constantly upgraded. Eventually, Manfred is left behind, but his influence lingers as Stross follows Amber in her quest to forge her own life and existence apart from either Pamela or Manfred in a world which Manfred only had glimpses of and Pamela couldn't begin to understand.
In fact, although presented throughout as a supporting character, Pamela may well be the most interesting character as she must come to terms with a world she doesn't fully understand. Amber was raised into the world and Manfred foresaw the world. Manfred's struggles (if any) to live in the world he anticipated are not shown, and Amber is trying to make her way in a world she knows how to interact with. Only Pamela is shown facing a struggle as a stranger in a strange land.
Even as Stross focuses his attention on the Macx family, in the end it becomes evident that the protagonist of the novel is not any of the primary characters. Stross presents this revelation in an almost off-handed manner which would have been even less apparent as the story was originally published over several years. However, he has also laid the groundwork for the revelation in the various parts of the novel.
Accelerando is a novel of big ideas and technological advancement. Although many of his characters are interesting, they are not the focus of Stross's ideas. At times this means that the characters take a back seat to the ideas being presented. In a more character-driven book this would be a problem, but in the work Stross has created, it is noticeable, but not particularly important.
Charles Stross successfully creates a sense of wonder in Accelerando as he shows a future in which interstellar travel exists, but isn't really the focus of the change in humanity, instead, he combines the themes of cyberpunk with modern artificial intelligence to produce a future which is a more hopeful vision than cyberpunk traditionally offers.
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